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Report Lays Out Blueprint to Reduce Oklahoma Prison Population 50 percent by 2025

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ACLU’s Smart Justice campaign has recommended steps Oklahoma can take to reduce its prison population by 50 percent by 2025.

They include instituting policies that send fewer people to prison, reduce the time people spend there on average and correcting racial disparities, especially when it comes to drug crimes.

Cutting time served and finding alternatives to prison for drug possession would lead to almost 8,000 fewer people in prison. Open Justice Oklahoma Director Ryan Gentzler said voters tried to start that by passing State Question 780, which made simple possession a misdemeanor.

"The effects of those reforms are really up to prosecutors and law enforcement to decide how to enforce. So, if we can get prosecutors on board with reducing the prison population, it will make all of this a lot easier," Gentzler said.

Gentzler said making State Question 780 retroactive would be a good step.

"There are still quite a few people in our prisons for drug possession, which is a misdemeanor now, but when they were sentenced to prison, it was a felony," Gentzler said.

Gentzler said state leaders also need to be serious about funding alternatives to prison, like addiction treatment programs.

The report notes Oklahoma’s general fund spending on corrections has increased 79 percent since 1987, as the state's incarceration rate has risen to No. 2 in the U.S. Drug offenses make up about one-third of prison admissions, and more than half of inmates are there for nonviolent crimes.

To reduce time served, Smart Justice recommends sentencing reform that reduces sentence ranges and enhancements, as well as getting more people on supervised release.

The report mentioned several of Smart Justice's recommendations were included in a reform package proposed by a task force, but state lawmakers took more conservative steps.

Gentzler said effective reform is a matter of political will, and it can be done.

"Texas is the most-cited example. They started reducing their incarceration rate with some big changes in 2007," Gentzler said. "They’ve closed down, I think it’s five or six prisons now. I mean, and their crime rate hasn’t risen at the same time."